December 22, 2016

Florida Republican legislative leaders host January fundraiser for Artiles, Diaz

Artiles-diaz fundraiser invite@ByKristenMClark

When the Florida Legislature returns to Tallahassee in early January for its first committee work week ahead of the 2017 session, two Miami-Dade Republican lawmakers will also use the time to get a head-start on raising money for their 2018 races.

And they'll have the help of some powerful party backers.

Newly elected Miami state Sen. Frank Artiles and Hialeah state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. -- who's running for a Florida Senate seat in 2018 -- are planning a joint fundraising reception for Jan. 10 at the Governor's Club in Tallahassee, according to an invitation obtained by the Herald/Times.

The host committee for the reception includes five influential Republicans, four of whom are current or future chamber leaders: current Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart, Bradenton Sen. Bill Galvano, Trilby Sen. Wilton Simpson, Miami Lakes state Rep. Jose Oliva and Hialeah Sen. René García.

As Senate president, Negron is in charge of the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which raises money to assist top party candidates. Galvano and Simpson are both on track to be future Senate presidents after Negron: Galvano in the 2018-2020 term and Simpson in 2020-2022. And, Oliva is poised to take over as House speaker in 2018.

García's presence on the host committee indicates an endorsement of Diaz as his successor. García is in his final term representing Senate District 36 and Diaz, a three-term representative, is running for that seat.

Expect that Artiles and Diaz won't be the only ones fundraising in January. Committee weeks often attract evening fundraising receptions since lawmakers are already convened in Tallahassee. House and Senate rules bar lawmakers from fundraising during the official legislative session, which in 2017 begins in March.

December 20, 2016

Open-carry bill should have a friendlier path next year in Florida Senate

Guns

@ByKristenMClark

For the past two legislative sessions, the Florida Senate had been the blockade for NRA-endorsed gun bills, but the odds are now greater that that trend won't continue in 2017.

A contentious and comprehensive bill that allows for the open-carrying of handguns and otherwise expands gun-owners' rights in Florida will have an easier path to the Senate floor next spring, thanks to friendlier committee assignments than similar proposals that previously stalled.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has sent SB 140 -- by Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube -- to be heard before three committees, all chaired by conservative Republicans who passionately support gun-owners' rights. They are: Steube's Judiciary Committee; Government Oversight & Accountability, chaired by Dennis Baxley of Ocala; and Rules, chaired by Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers.

Committee assignments are a routine step that is typically not significant but, in this case, is quite revealing of Senate leadership's support for Steube's wide-ranging measure.

Notably: The bill will not be reviewed by the Criminal Justice Committee, a common stop for past gun-related legislation. That committee is now chaired by an Orlando Democrat, Randolph Bracy.

When reporters asked Negron about Steube's bill earlier Tuesday -- before the committee assignments were published -- Negron was vague on where the bill would be routed.

His spokeswoman, Katie Betta, told the Herald/Times this afternoon: "The President referenced the bill to the committees he deemed appropriate, based on his judgement after reviewing the bill."

"I've always been a strong proponent of Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," Negron told reporters earlier Tuesday. "A particular bill, we'll have to see what components are in it. Obviously I have a lot of confidence in Senator Steube."

Steube's legislation would allow nearly 1.7 million people with with concealed-weapons permits in Florida to openly carry their firearms. It would also remove several locations from the list where concealed weapons are currently banned -- allowing guns at legislative meetings, local government meetings, airport passenger terminals and public schools, colleges and universities.

There's no guarantee that Steube's bill has the votes to pass, but these committee assignments at least give it a better chance at advancing.

The stopgap in previous legislative sessions that had prevented similar gun proposals from reaching the Senate floor had been then-Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. He had denied such bills the chance to be heard at his committee, let alone voted on. He lost re-election in November to Democrat José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.

Proposals calling for open carry and to allow concealed weapons in airport passenger terminals and on public college and university campuses have been filed in the House for next session as well, but as individual pieces of legislation.

Photo credit: AP

December 14, 2016

Democratic senators form committee to fundraise separately from Florida Democratic Party

@PatriciaMazzei

Democratic state senators have filed paperwork to create their own fundraising committee, splitting from the Florida Democratic Party in the middle of a political fight over who will lead the party.

The Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee will take over raising money and coordinating campaigns for state Senate races, now run under the Senate Victory organization of the FDP.

"We've grown, and we raised a lot of money this cycle," said Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens. "We've created an infrastructure now, and a staff."

The new organization, first reported by Politico, will be an "affiliated party committee," which under state law can put up to $50,000 toward a legislative campaign. That's the same amount a party can give -- and much more than the $1,000 an individual lawmaker's political committee can contribute.

Braynon said other Democratic senators, including incoming Minority Leader Jeff Clemens, agreed with the split, which is similar to the one Republican senators made in 2015 with the Republican Party of Florida. In the Democrats' case, however, the existing FDP leadership supports the senators' move, Braynon said.

Senate Democrats pointedly named their group the "Legislative Campaign Committee" -- rather than "Senatorial Campaign Committee" -- which suggests they may try to get House Democrats to join them.

Fueling the division is the upcoming election to replace retiring FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant. With no other big candidates seeking the seat, the post is likely to fall to the next Miami-Dade County committeeman: outgoing state Sen. Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay or major donor Stephen Bittel of Coconut Grove.

Bittel, the apparent frontrunner, was a key force behind the Florida Alliance, a secretive outside fundraising group that was at odds with Braynon and other party Democrats in some of this year's legislative races.

Braynon has made no secret of his support for Bullard over Bittel. But he insisted Democrats remain united in spite of senators' departure from the party structure.

"We're all still Democrats," Braynon said.

 

 

Former prosecutor will challenge Campbell for Miami-Dade Senate district

Pizzo2@ByKristenMClark

Democrat Jason Pizzo says he hopes he'll be "pleasantly surprised" by the work of new state Sen. Daphne Campbell, who took office barely five weeks ago.

But for now, Pizzo is so concerned by the election of the Miami Shores Democrat and former state representative that he's already ramping up plans to run against her again in two years.

Pizzo, a 40-year-old former Miami-Dade prosecutor who unsuccessfully ran against Campbell for an open state Senate seat this year, plans to file paperwork on Wednesday in Tallahassee to launch his 2018 candidacy -- giving him 20 months to take on Campbell, or any other challengers who might arise.

"Unfortunately, the outcome in November was the election of a senator who doesn't and will not and cannot represent our district the way it should be represented, the way it should represent everyone's families -- including mine," Pizzo told the Herald/Times.

Pizzo cited Campbell's recent legislative record in the Florida House where he said she didn't advocate for women's rights for abortion, efforts to halt climate change or proposals to reduce gun violence in vulnerable communities, including Liberty City and parts of Overtown, both of which are in Senate District 38.

"There are so many critical, absolutely critical issues pending right now that will affect everyone's life -- their life, their health, their education, the climate," Pizzo said. "Within the same district, we have kids killing kids, we have climate change occurring and so everyone's interest is for the best, most professional, most ethical representation in the state Senate, and I continue to believe I'm that person."

Continue reading "Former prosecutor will challenge Campbell for Miami-Dade Senate district" »

December 12, 2016

Steube files comprehensive bill changing how and where gun-owners could pack heat

Steube 2014  - keelerFrom the News Service of Florida:

Senate Judiciary Chairman Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, introduced a controversial measure Friday that would allow the more than 1.67 million Floridians with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry handguns.

Steube's bill (SB 140), which is filed for the 2017 legislative session, also would expand the places where people with concealed-weapons licenses are allowed to carry guns. It would allow them to be armed at legislative meetings; local government meetings; elementary and secondary schools; airport passenger terminals; and college and university campuses.

License holders would still be prohibited from carrying weapons at locations such as police stations, jails, courtrooms, polling places and most bars.

During the 2016 session, the open-carry measure was approved 80-38 in the House but failed to advance through the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was chaired by former Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. Diaz de la Portilla lost a re-election bid in November.

A bill that would have allowed people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on university and college campuses also died in the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 2016 session. Last week, Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, reintroduced a House version of the campus-carry measure (HB 6005) for the 2017 session. Also, Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, has proposed a bill (HB 6001) that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to bring guns into the passenger terminals of airports.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

December 08, 2016

Debate over revision to Florida's 'stand your ground' law returns

Rob bradley@ByKristenMClark

State Sen. Rob Bradley is renewing his effort to change Florida's "stand your ground" law in a way that prosecutors have said could make it harder for them to try cases.

Bradley's legislation in the 2016 session was the subject of much debate, because critics argued it would force prosecutors to essentially try a case before it actually got to trial.

Bradley, a conservative Republican and attorney from Fleming Island, doesn't see it that way. He's on a mission to correct what he views as the Florida Supreme Court's "misinterpretation" of law when it comes to who has the responsibility in a pretrial hearing to prove whether a defendant can claim self-defense under "stand your ground."

He revived the legislation by filing a bill (SB 128) for the 2017 session on Thursday.

Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law, adopted in 2005, allows residents to use deadly force in defense of their lives or property in certain instances -- but with no obligation to flee.

In July 2015, five of seven Supreme Court justices ruled defendants who claim a stand-your-ground defense have to prove before trial why they’re entitled to that immunity.

Bradley and some other conservative lawmakers complained that the court "overreached" its powers, and they argued the law was intended so that prosecutors -- not defendants -- should bear the burden of proof at the pre-trial hearing. That means, under Bradley's proposed change, prosecutors would have to prove before trial why a defendant could not claim a stand-your-ground defense.

"The government has the burden of proof in a criminal case from the beginning of a case until the end," Bradley said in a statement Thursday. "This fundamental premise is guaranteed in our Constitution and understood intuitively by all Floridians."

In the spring, opponents of the proposal argued it would "stack the deck against justice for the dead."

Bradley's bill easily passed the Senate, but that was mostly a symbolic vote because the House bill abruptly died in committee before session even began.

One of the points of debate in the Senate was over what level of proof prosecutors would be held to at the pre-trial hearing: "beyond a reasonable doubt" or the lesser standard of "by clear and convincing evidence."

The version that passed the Senate included the compromise of "clear and convincing evidence." But Bradley's filed bill for 2017 calls for what he originally proposed: requiring prosecutors to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" -- the standard required at trial -- why a stand-your-ground defense can't be claimed.

"We have an obligation to zealously guard the protections granted us all in the Constitution," Bradley said Thursday. "It was uplifting last session to have the support of fellow conservatives around the state on this important issue."

No House companion has yet been filed for 2017. Last session's sponsor, Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, is now in the Senate.

Image credit: Florida Channel

December 02, 2016

Latvala bristles at freshman senator's attempt to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

via @JeffSolochek

Without mentioning any names, or even the issue at hand, Florida Sen. Jack Latvala took a clear swipe Thursday at a newly minted Senate colleague who filed legislation to undo a university tuition measure that Latvala worked hard to broker two years ago.

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, proposed a bill Wednesday to void a law granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students who graduate from Florida high schools. Latvala initially had little to say about the proposal, which he hadn't yet read.

MORE: "In-state college tuition rates for Florida's undocumented students could be in danger"

A day later, in a room filled with school board members from across the state, Latvala let loose. He made his comments in response to the question of what might be his biggest non-financial challenge in the 2017 session.

That challenge, Latvala said, will be coming to grips with the largest freshman group of senators in memory — 20 in all, 17 of whom came from the Florida House with their own set of protocols and behaviors that differ from the more collegial Senate.

He paused, then continued to speak about "one of" the House transplants who, just a few days into the term decided to file a bill that would repeal all the hard work a longstanding senator — the Appropriations Committee chairman, no less — spent significant effort moving through the Legislature.

Latvala is the Appropriations chair.

"It gets your back up," he said. "The final chapter hasn't been played on that."

FSBA executive director Andrea Messina, who moderated the panel, playfully asked, "It wasn't Sen. (Dana) Young, was it?"

A grinning Young sat three seats away from Latvala, who responded quickly, "She wouldn't dare."

Sen. David Simmons, another Senate long-timer at the table, said he spent eight years in the House before coming to the upper chamber. The operating models of each differs greatly, he said, and it will take time for all to acclimate to one another.

But one thing is certain, Simmons said: Newcomers quickly learn that "the toe or foot you step on is attached to another part of the anatomy you might need to kiss" later on to get what you want.

The room burst into laughter. Steube was not present.

November 30, 2016

In-state college tuition rates for Florida's undocumented students could be in danger

Steube 2014  - keeler

via @clairemcneill

Heralded as a bipartisan victory when it passed, a Florida law granting in-state college tuition rates to undocumented students could now be in danger.

A bill filed Wednesday by conservative Florida Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, seeks to erase that 2014 provision. Colleges no longer would have to waive out-of-state fees for undocumented students who attend Florida high schools.

"It is certainly a big issue in my district among my constituents, who were frustrated and upset that the state would allow undocumented illegal immigrants to receive taxpayer-supported in-state tuition," he said. "So I think it's important to file the bill and have a discussion on it."

Steube said he knocked on thousands of doors in his primary campaign. Unfailingly, voters asked about two things: the Second Amendment, and illegal immigration. He remembers one working-class man in particular, disappointed that after working so hard to put his family through college, the state would give undocumented immigrants a tuition break.

"I just don't think it's good public policy for the state," Steube said. "And with the change in leadership and the change in both of the chambers, I think it's a policy that is worth revisiting."

More than a decade of contention preceded the 2014 tuition bill. When it finally passed in a high-profile 26-13 vote in the Senate, Republican Gov. Rick Scott deemed it "a historic day."

"Just think," Scott said then. "Children that grew up in our state will now get the same tuition as their peers."

The vote felt like victory for Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who sponsored the bill.

"The eyes of America are on us," he said. "I think we're setting an example. I think we're doing the right thing."

On Wednesday, Latvala had little to say about the new Senate Bill 82.

"First I've heard about it," he said. "I'm out of state, so I really don't want to talk about it until I've had a chance to take a look."

Before passing in spring 2014 with significant Republican support, the tuition proposal faced strong opposition within the party.

Then-Senate President Don Gaetz rebuked the bill in an email to his constituents, incensed that it would aid even those from countries rife with "anti-American violence." And incoming Senate president Joe Negron, R-Stuart, then chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said his committee wouldn't hear the bill, deflating its potential of becoming law.

Latvala crafted a strategy in response, adding the language to several other bills going before the panel to keep the effort alive. Student activists also kept the heat on Senate leaders, staging news conferences and pressing for meetings. Scott told reporters he considered the bill a priority.

On Wednesday, his office said it was taking a look at the new proposal.

Steube, who was elected to the Senate in 2016 after six years in the House, said he hasn't talked to Negron or Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran about the legislation yet. But knowing of their previous opposition gave him hope.

Negron and Corcoran have not returned calls for comment.

The benefits of the bill are already being felt by young adults who were brought to the U.S. through no fault of their own, said Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, who sponsored the 2014 bill in the House. 

“This really isn’t an immigration bill, this is access to higher education,” she said. “I for one am focused on empowering families and being able to provide opportunities for students.”

Despite the Senate president’s likely support, she said she’s not too concerned about Steube’s bill just yet. She vowed to fight it tooth and nail.

“Clearly, in my mind, he’s still in campaign mode,” she said. “There’s a lot of football to be played, and we’re in the preseason at this point. Hopefully at the end of the day we’ll prevail.”

Photo credit: State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, in 2014 when he was in the Florida House. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

November 29, 2016

Florida Senate's committee leaders for 2016-18 announced

Florida Senate-Renovations (2)

@ByKristenMClark

Senate President Joe Negron R-Stuart, announced his leadership team for the 2016-18 term on Tuesday, a list that includes some expected appointments but also some surprises and a few snubs.

Negron put many of his most trusted allies in key positions, such as naming Trilby Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson as majority leader. Simpson is in line to take over as Senate president in four years. Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel was named Simpson's deputy.

President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores, R-Miami -- Negron's No. 2 in the chamber -- will helm two committees: Banking and Insurance and the subcommittee in charge of the Health and Human Services budget. She'll also be vice-chairwoman of the full Appropriations Committee. Meanwhile, Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano -- last year's majority leader who is likely to succeed Negron as president in 2018 -- will be in charge of the higher education budget, a reflection of the emphasis Negron plans to put on the state's public colleges and universities during his tenure.

Because half of the Senate is new this term, many freshman senators landed key leadership spots -- including several recently former House members and two Democrats, Lauren Book and Randolph Bracy. Veteran Democrats Bill Montford, of Tallahassee, and Audrey Gibson, of Jacksonville, also were given committee chairmanships, affording the minority party's 15 members a level of influence in the chamber.

Of note, as well: The Senate's former steadfast firewall that last spring had halted a couple controversial measures to expand gun rights in Florida is gone, potentially giving such bills an easier route in the 2017 session.

Rather than keep a moderate lawmaker as chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, Negron named conservative Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, to the leadership post. The committee was previously led by Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who lost his re-election bid to now-Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.

Steube, an ardent supporter of gun rights who last year was in the Florida House, told the Herald/Times last week that he's drafting comprehensive legislation for 2017 to reduce various types of restrictions on conceal-carry permit holders. Some of those same proposals were considered last year but failed to pass because of Diaz de la Portilla's decision to kill the bills. Diaz de la Portilla had said the proposals lacked support in the 40-member Senate, which is generally more moderate than the House and where Republicans hold a narrower majority.

In the absence of Diaz de la Portilla, though, Bracy could potentially be a different obstacle as head of the Criminal Justice Committee. The Orlando Democrat supported last year's campus-carry bill but opposed a measure to allow the open-carrying of firearms.

Here's the full list of chairmanships for main committees in 2016-18:

Continue reading "Florida Senate's committee leaders for 2016-18 announced" »

Mandatory school recess proposal coming back for 2017 session

RecessTwo0320 Run MSH

@ByKristenMClark

A popular, parent-backed proposal to require daily recess at all of Florida’s public elementary schools will be back before the Florida Legislature next spring.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, filed a bill on Tuesday that mirrors one that died in the spring — despite fervent support — when one key senator from Pasco County refused to hear it in committee.

The measure, SB 78 for the 2017 session, mandates local school boards offer 20 minutes per day of “supervised, safe and unstructured free-play recess” for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, who led the effort last year, will again champion it in the House. He said he’s in the process of drafting his bill for 2017 and plans to file it soon.

Last session’s proposal was initiated by passionate parents from all across Florida — primarily self-described “recess moms” in Tampa and Orlando, as well as Miami-Dade — who pleaded and lobbied for their lawmakers’ support in the 2016 session.

Read more here.

Photo credit: Marsha Halper / Miami Herald

*This post has been updated.